Earlier today, we reviewed Ramp Champ, a game by The Iconfactory that applies a new coat of gloss to the old skee-ball genre by replacing skee-ball’s plain circular targets with elaborately drawn artwork, then adding themed music and sound effects for added atmosphere. The $2 title ships with four different backdrops, a ticket-based reward system, and a number of charming little elements that will hook many players; it’s not the best-controlled skee-ball title we’ve tried on the iPhone, nor the best use of the device’s graphics hardware, but it’s very cool.
What was especially noteworthy about Ramp Champ was an iPhone 3.0-specific feature that we’ve already seen demonstrated poorly and used poorly, but not really used well: In-App Purchasing. There are fears, frankly with very good foundation, that developers will transform their iPhone OS titles into miniature ATM machines, selling games with very limited functionality and then charging players for every stage or two, bundles of weapons, music, and other features that the typical game just includes without a whole bunch of “Buy Now” buttons. Developers such as Electronic Arts, normally known for releasing fully-featured titles, seemed to be genuinely excited to be able to sell $1 in-game access to your own iPod’s music library—with those sorts of ideas, where would the nickel and diming end?
By comparison, Iconfactory seems to have struck almost the exact right balance with Ramp Champ. You pay $2 for the aforementioned four levels, which provide enough entertainment in and of themselves to justify that asking price. Then, if you want, you can pay $1 for a set of two more levels, or $2 for a total of four more levels, bringing the game’s price up to $4 for 8 levels. Each of the add-on levels is as thoroughly developed and interesting as the rest, and carries its own rewards for good play. Would it be great to have gotten these levels for free? Sure. Would it be even cooler if Iconfactory rewarded great players by unlocking the levels rather than selling them? Yes. But because of Ramp Champ’s low initial price, and the low $1 charge for adding a set of two new levels, In-App Purchasing suddenly seems fair. Iconfactory also includes a means to let you recover your downloaded purchases in the event that the app gets wiped out or deleted from your iPhone, assuming that you’ve backed it up with iTunes.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to predict that there are going to be any number of examples going forward that don’t follow Ramp Champ’s model, and wind up walking over the line of what’s smart or even acceptable for an In-App Purchase. For the time being, it’s nice to see that someone has used the feature in a generally unobjectionable way to offer real value-added content to a game that already stood on its own as worthwhile. Hopefully others will learn from this example, and iPhone gamers will benefit.